The Precision 7550 (starts at $1,799; a whopping $6,210 as tested) fits formidable power into a chassis Dell says is 19% smaller than its predecessor. It has a first-rate display and enough expandability and configurability to compete at the top of its class.
Alas, subjectively the keyboard’s taken a step backward. And objectively, the change from the original to the thermally throttled Max-Q version of Nvidia’s Quadro RTX 5000 means a second back-step, this time in our performance benchmarks.
The Precision 7550 is a fine system, but given its steep price, it falls just short of repeat Editors’ Choice honors.
Mix and Match Your Components
The $1,799 base model of the Precision 7550 relies on its Intel Core i5 processor’s integrated graphics, so we at PCMag would balk at calling it a workstation. No such constraints apply to higher models, with a choice of five Nvidia professional GPUs from the 4GB Quadro T1000 to the 16GB Quadro RTX 5000 Max-Q. Storage can be expanded to 6TB (three 2TB M.2 solid-state drives) and memory to 128GB of standard or error-correcting code (ECC) DRAM. Five different 15.6-inch screens are available, three with 1080p resolution (one a touch panel) and two with 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) resolution.
My $6,210 test unit combined an eight-core, 2.4GHz (5.3GHz turbo) Intel Xeon W-10885M processor with the top graphics processor on offer and the second-best screen (a 4K HDR panel, with 500 nits rather than 800 nits of brightness). The system carried 32GB of memory and one 1TB NVMe SSD, along with three years of onsite service and Windows 10 Pro for Workstations. Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth are standard; LTE mobile broadband is optional. Alternatives to the Xeon CPU include six- and eight-core Core i7 and eight-core Core i9 chips.
The Precision 7550 is a gently tapered silver aluminum slab, measuring 1.08 by 14.2 by 9.5 inches—noticeably trimmer than rivals like the Lenovo ThinkPad P53 (1.2 by 14.9 by 9.9 inches) or HP ZBook 15 G6 (1 by 14.8 by 10.4 inches), though it’s two or three ounces heavier than them at 6 pounds. The system has passed MIL-STD 810G torture tests against road hazards such as shock, vibration, and environmental extremes. There’s almost no flex when you grasp the screen corners or press the keyboard deck.
Two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a SmartCard reader decorate the laptop’s left side. Two USB 3.2 Type-A ports join an SD card slot, an audio jack, and a Noble lock slot on the right edge.
Mini DisplayPort and HDMI video outputs, along with an Ethernet jack and the AC adapter connector, are at the rear.
The bezels surrounding the screen aren’t the thinnest, but they make room up top for a face-recognition webcam with a sliding privacy shutter. The power button at top right of the keyboard doubles as a fingerprint reader for a second way to access Windows Hello logins. A proximity sensor puts the notebook to sleep when you walk away and awakens it when you return, logging you in if you’ve enabled face recognition.
I consider the DreamColor displays of top-end HP workstations the best I’ve seen, but the Precision’s 4K screen comes darn close. Colors are so rich and saturated they’re a pleasure to look at, while brightness and contrast are sensational, and fine details are razor-sharp. Everything from web pages to videos to independent software vendor (ISV) app screens looked gorgeous. It’s a shame the test unit came with a black-and-gray wallpaper image.
A supplied PrecisionColor utility lets you choose among color palettes—Adobe RGB, sRGB, DCI-P3, vibrant, SD or HD video, two low-blue-light settings, or custom—and adjust color temperature as you like. You can assign different color gamuts to different applications or connect an X-Rite i1Display Pro colorimeter to calibrate the display.
The backlit keyboard has a snappy typing feel and a numeric keypad that’s not condensed or downsized as some are. On the minus side, while the Precision 7540’s cursor arrow keys were arranged in the proper inverted T, the Precision 7550’s are in an awkward row, as I invariably complain about with HP laptops. And while there are dedicated Home and End keys, the Page Up and Page Down keys have disappeared. (You must pair the Fn key with the up and down arrows.)
The keyboard pointing stick has disappeared, too, though the touchpad glides and taps smoothly and has comfortable buttons, including the middle button beloved of ISV apps.
The 720p webcam captures slightly soft-focus but well-lit and colorful images with just a bit of digital noise. Speakers above the keyboard pump out impressive audio, with ample volume that doesn’t get harsh or tinny when cranked up; there’s audible bass and it’s easy to distinguish overlapping tracks. Provided Dell Optimizer software lets you apply a 3D effect when listening through headphones.
Dell Optimizer also uses artificial intelligence to fine-tune the system for the applications you use most. Power Manager and Command Update utilities get the most from the battery and keep the BIOS, drivers, and firmware fresh. Dell SupportAssist handles other downloads, removes junk files, and enhances your network connection.
Performance Testing: A High-End Workstation Brawl
For our benchmark comparisons, I pitted the Precision 7550 against two other 15.6-inch deluxe mobile workstations, the HP ZBook 15 G6 and Lenovo ThinkPad P53, and the 17.3-inch MSI WS75. The system in the last slot, the HP ZBook Create G7, has Nvidia GeForce instead of Quadro graphics and lacks true workstations’ ISV certifications, but it packs comparable performance credentials. You can see the contenders’ basic specs in the table below.
Productivity and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. (See more about how we test laptops.)
We consider 4,000 points a superb showing in PCMark 10, so the Dell’s score of 5,750 proves it’s ridiculous overkill for everyday apps like Excel and PowerPoint. (Its Precision 7540 predecessor was more ridiculous still with a score of 6,850.)
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing benchmark, in which we put a stopwatch on systems as they transcode a brief movie from 4K resolution down to 1080p. It, too, is a tough test for multi-core, multi-threaded CPUs; lower times are better.
Times under 10 minutes in Handbrake and scores above 1,000 in Cinebench put these systems in the processing elite. The six-core Xeon in the Lenovo is schooled by its eight-core competitors.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters.
All five laptops posted screaming fast times in this exercise. Its raw speed and dazzling screen make the Precision a stellar choice for photo or video editing.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and lets high-end PCs and gaming rigs strut their stuff.
Though designed for professional apps, the Dell’s Quadro RTX 5000 Max-Q is more than fast enough to play demanding games. It trailed the full-bore version of the RTX 5000 in the Lenovo and MSI, however.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene, this one rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. We present two Superposition results, run at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets and reported in frames per second (fps), indicating how smooth the scene looks in motion. For lower-end systems, maintaining at least 30fps is the realistic target, while more powerful computers should ideally attain at least 60fps at the test resolution.
A different gaming simulation produced a different result, with the Precision narrowly winning the Superposition race at 1080p resolution.
In addition to our CPU measurement, Cinebench R15 has an OpenGL exercise that uses that popular vector graphics application programming interface (API) to tap the GPU for hardware-accelerated rendering of a brief animated movie of a car chase. Results are displayed in frames per second (fps); higher numbers are better.
We also use the POV-Ray 3.7 CPU benchmark. The Persistence of Vision Raytracer (POV-Ray) is a free software program that makes tons of calculations to determine pixel colors and (optionally) put them on screen. It exercises processor cores and threads and the floating-point unit, not the GPU. (It doesn’t use the ray-tracing features of Nvidia’s RTX series GPUs.) The benchmark times (in seconds; lower is better) the off-screen rendering of a photo-realistic scene with multiple light sources.
Great results for the 7550 in these benchmarks, winning in POV-Ray and more or less tying the MSI in Cinebench OpenGL.
Finally, there’s SPECviewperf 13, the most realistic and challenging workstation benchmark we run and the one we give greatest weight. This test uses viewsets from actual ISV apps to render, rotate, and zoom in and out of wireframe and solid 3D models, with results listed in frames per second (higher is better). The viewsets we use are from PTC’s Creo CAD platform; Autodesk’s Maya modeling and simulation software for film, TV, and games; and Dassault Systemes’ SolidWorks 3D rendering package.
The Precision 7540 went toe to toe with the ThinkPad P53 in this test, but the 7550, while excellent, was half a step behind. Again, blame the Max-Q versus full-fat version of the Quadro RTX 5000.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits.
The Precision and ZBook Create tied for the gold medal here. Such stamina from such powerful notebooks is rare.
A Spectacular Choice
Since the Precision 7550 fits into the top echelon of laptop workstations, with King Kong components and heart-attack prices, it’s mildly disappointing that Dell opted for the detuned rather than full-boat version of the Quadro RTX 5000 GPU. But unless you’re actually counting frames per second, it’s hard to criticize a system that competes with HP’s and Lenovo’s best.
Dell Precision 7550 Specs
|Processor||Intel Xeon W-10885M|
|Processor Speed||2.4 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||32 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||1 TB|
|Screen Size||15.6 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||3840 by 2160|
|Variable Refresh Support||None|
|Screen Refresh Rate||60 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000 (Max-Q)|
|Graphics Memory||16 GB|
|Wireless Networking||Bluetooth, 802.11ax|
|Dimensions (HWD)||1.08 by 14.2 by 9.5 inches|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Pro for Workstations|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||9:04|